Max Bond Memorial / Cooper Union / May 12, 2009 /Remarks by Alice M. Greenwald
I am deeply honored to speak today on behalf of my colleagues at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, in celebration of the life and legacy of Max Bond.
When I arrived in New York in the spring of 2006 to take on the directorship of the Memorial Museum, I found myself surrounded by architects. We had architects for the Memorial, landscape architects for the Memorial Plaza, architects for the Museum Pavilion, and architects for the below-grade Museum. Even a disproportionate number of my colleagues at the Foundation had been trained as architects, had long worked on various architectural projects, had parents and siblings who were architects, or were married to architects! And, I’m not exaggerating!
As I began to orient myself to the many challenges of this project and tried to become fluent in the language of “architect-speak,” one individual stood out among the many impressive characters in our midst. And, that was Max Bond.
At that time, we were all deeply involved in the Section 106 process: a conscientious effort to hear from a variety of consulting parties regarding this project’s proposed approach to the Federally-mandated preservation of landmark-status historical and archaeological assets at the World Trade Center site. To say that these meetings were intense, passionate, and contentious, is putting it mildly. But, inevitably, in the midst of the fury and the debate, Max would speak, and in his soft-spoken, gentlemanly manner, would zero in on the key issues, elevate the discussion, and move it forward in a productive fashion. His was the voice of calm and reason, and when Max spoke, everyone listened. This project is the better off for it.
Max’s personal commitment to our effort was palpable. My colleagues speak of the gravitas with which he accorded the Museum program; how he could envision – even early on – the potential power of the visitor experience in this space; and, how he consistently rose above conflicting priorities of the multiple design teams to advocate for the greatness of the project as a whole. Max had an unpretentious but keen and powerful intelligence. He simply commanded your respect without demanding it.
When people speak about Max, they inevitably use words like “gentlemanly,” “courtly,” “gracious,” “elegant.” And, these are all accurate descriptors. But, I want to focus on another aspect of Max’s persona: his fierce advocacy for the interweaving of civil and human rights into the social fabric of a city; his fundamental commitment, through his art and chosen profession, to the promotion of social responsibility.
Eighteen months ago, in conjunction with a nationally-touring exhibition about the Memorial, I traveled to Birmingham, Alabama, where I spent the better part of an afternoon at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. There, an elegant building designed by Max Bond houses powerful exhibitions, a library, and meeting spaces dedicated to the history of the American civil rights movement, all meant to spur reflection on the imperative of fostering civil and human rights worldwide.
At the BCRI, you walk through a comprehensive exhibition that takes you from the Jim Crow South, through the violent suppression of the non-violent marches and anti-segregation protests that took place in Birmingham, led by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Baptist minister and head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. Eventually, the path of the exhibition leads to a moment of powerful immediacy, with the screening of the historic film footage of Dr. King’s exalted “I have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
As you exit the core exhibition, elevated by the resounding words of promise you have just heard, you come into a light-filled room whose windows look out across the street to a city park on one side, and a church on the other. The park, it turns out, was the location of the incredibly brutal treatment of young protesters at the hands of the Birmingham Police, who used high-pressure water jets and police dogs to attack hundreds of school students participating in the “Children’s Crusade” of May 1963.
And, the church is the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where on September 15 of that same year, four little girls attending Sunday School were murdered when a bomb ripped through the church basement. Within a year of that act of terror, President Johnson would secure passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
In a surprising and understated way, the very building at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute becomes a lens onto the world: admonishing us not to forget, and demanding that we place memory at the heart of our commitment to making change in the world.
The great Civil War historian, David Blight, has written about a conversation he had with Rev. Shuttlesworth some years ago, when they were both part of a committee planning the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. Rev. Shuttlesworth, who listened quietly to an impassioned debate about how and whether a museum about slavery might be progressive and uplifting, spoke up at the very end of the meeting and only when asked what he had been thinking about so intently. He said, matter-of-factly, “if you don’t tell it like it was, it can never be as it ought to be.”
I believe that Max Bond told it like it was…so that we might not just build impressive buildings, but so we might all continue to build a world defined by justice, inclusion, and mutual respect. And, he told it not only in Birmingham, but in Atlanta at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, and someday soon, right here in New York, at the National September 11 Memorial Museum.
These buildings bear the stamp of the man who conceived them. They are never strident, but always insistent. They are not loud, but they are always on point. They demand our attention and focus us on what matters.
And, they remind us of the privilege – and it has been my privilege – of having shared challenges and achievements, tragedy and triumph, with a true and gracious, one-of-a-kind gentleman: Max Bond.
Max and Me by Jean Carey Bond
Before I was Jean Bond, wife of a master builder, I was Jean Davis Carey, an only child born in Harlem at the Edgecombe Sanitarium on 164th Street -- which, today, is a low-security correctional facility.
I grew up in two worlds: the multifaceted world of Harlem, where African American intellectuals, artists and professionals lived side by side with the black working people of many talents who had fled the South's lynching fields and led what’s called the “Great Migration” northward. The North was a place of continued struggle, to be sure, but also, hopefully, a place of greater opportunity.
My other world was Greenwich Village, where from ages 5 to 18 I spent most of every week in a cocoon of radicalism called The Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School. These were the golden years of “progressive education.” A handful of our extraordinarily gifted teachers were black – for example, the legendary Charity Bailey, who taught us folk songs in Yiddish, Spanish, French, you name it. But many more were the children of a nearly bygone subset of European immigrants: socialist visionaries and revolutionaries. Emerging from Little Red/E.I. – and even before I got “finished” at Sarah Lawrence – I thought I was the best educated person in town.
At a women’s college in the ‘50s, the M.R.S. degree still loomed large for most, though not for me. This classmate wanted to wed a doctor, that one a businessman or lawyer. I wouldn’t marry until I was at least 30, I said, after going to Paris to write. And if I did marry, he would be an architect – my idea of the perfectly balanced man: earthbound and practical (after all, the buildings have to stand up) and on the other hand, arty and a dreamer. A year after graduation, I met Max. Chuckling, Tom Dent told beret-wearing, French-speaking Max: “I know you’re gonna hit it off with this woman 'cause she’s as phony as you are.” Weeks into our courtship, I decided he had passed what for me was THE most important test: He wasn’t just smart, he was smarter than I was … or so I felt at the time.
After several months, I proposed. His reaction was classic Max: “Marriage….” he said, to no one in particular, “that’s a big move, putting your life together with another person. I mean, you’re a full grown, developed human being even if you do wear little bitty clothes.” I took that as a "yes."
The point of the above summary is this: Max was the world’s foremost practitioner of unconditional love. I was a piece of work, definitely not your day at the beach. Yet he embraced all of who I was -- not without complaint or challenge -- but those things always within the context of his irrevocable love and respect. He parented our children the same way and never in 48 years gave us a moment’s doubt that he was totally committed to our family.
At home and out in the world, Max was wise, patient and a natural peacemaker. He was the love of my life. Although Sandy Grymes says, speaking for The Girlfriends, “The love of your life? Max Bond was the love of all our lives.”